Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns a coordinated wave of police raids on at least six journalists in four different Russian regions in the past 48 hours. The searches are clearly designed to intimidate media personnel throughout Russia, RSF said.
The latest target was Yaroslav Varenik, a reporter in the White Sea port city of Arkhangelsk who works for the 29.ru news website. Police began a search of his apartment at 8:30 this morning and, after seizing a computer storage device, a phone, a notebook and documents from a source, they took him to the local headquarters of Russia’s Investigative Committee for questioning. He was released after several hours.
Alexei Volkov, the editor of the Keytown.me website in Smolensk, 360 km west of Moscow, received similar treatment yesterday. After searching his home, the police threatened his wife, saying they would “take away the children along with their father” if she did not sign a confidentiality agreement about the investigation.
In Vladimir, 200 km east of Moscow, the police searched the offices of the local news agency Dovod as well as the homes of its editors, Kirill Ishutin and Ilia Kosygin. In Yoshkar-Ola, in the Volga Federal District, police went to the home of Alexei Seregin and to the former address of Idel.Realii correspondent Dmitri Lyubimov.
The confiscation of computer equipment and bank cards from most of these journalists complicates their personal lives as well as their journalistic work.
The coordinated raids seem to be linked to a massive operation targeting Kremlin opponent Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), which was recently classified as a “foreign agent” and is now being investigated for “money laundering.” FBK offices in 30 different regions across Russia were searched yesterday.
The targeted journalists appear to have been mainly questioned about their links with the FBK. All of them nonetheless insist that they are not members of the FBK and just covered its activities.
“We condemn this new wave of searches, which violates the confidentiality of sources and obstructs the work of the targeted journalists,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We regard it as nothing other than a crude manoeuvre designed to intimidate provincial journalists and we call for an investigation into each raid under article 144 of the Russian penal code for ‘obstructing legal journalistic activities’.”
Russia is ranked 149th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.